City Paper is not for tourists
Slipping on a headset microphone for the first time in the mid-1980s transported Pete Medhurst into a different world. In reality, he was a student at Southern High School, working a shift at a fast food restaurant in Edgewater, Maryland. But with the headset on, his imagination took him elsewhere. He pretended to be in the broadcast booth at a major sporting event, where he was calling the game.
“Welcome to McDonald’s, can I take your order, please,” Medhurst would intone in his best radio voice. His friends always knew when he was there. They nicknamed him Howard Cossell, after the legendary sports broadcaster.
More than three decades later, the 49-year-old Churchton, Maryland resident is living out his childhood dream. This past week, Medhurst got called up to the big leagues as Dave Jageler’s fill in for the Washington Nationals’ radio play-by-play role on 106.7 The Fan. He sat alongside Charlie Slowes for the team’s road series against the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds. (Jageler, meanwhile, worked in the MASN TV booth.)
To reach the major leagues, Medhurst has grinded away by taking all the gigs he can, slowly climbing the broadcast ladder. He’s been the full-time update anchor at 106.7 The Fan, where he also hosts Nationals-related programs, since 2012. When he took that job, he continued on as the play-by-play announcer for many of the Naval Academy’s 33 varsity sports teams, which he’s been doing since 1997.
He’s also the track announcer at Rosecroft Raceway. It’s easier to list the sports he hasn’t called than the ones he has. On weekends, he occasionally works as a high school softball umpire and basketball referee. Medhurst’s Fitbit reveals that he sleeps about three-and-a-half to five hours a night.
“I don’t understand when he sleeps or sees his family, or like does errands, or anything like that,” says Chris Kinard, the program director at 106.7. “Because he works all the time, and it’s all sports related ‘cause that’s what his passion is and that’s what he loves.”
None of his high school friends are surprised by this. At 5, Medhurst sat in front of his TV and a tape recorder and called his first game in his family’s living room during the Thanksgiving Day NFL broadcast.
“I was the straight kid growing up,” Medhurst says. “Everybody else was out doing things on weekends, and outside of once in a while of going to the arcade with a friend of mine, [it was] just put me in front of a TV, let me watch a sporting event, let me go to a sporting event. … As I tell people, I’m either doing this or I’m a manager at a fast food restaurant. That’s pretty much how I depicted how things were going to go.”
That’s the impression that Dave Johnson got when he first met Medhurst. Johnson, the sports director at WTOP and play-by-play voice for the Washington Wizards and D.C. United, gave Medhurst one of his first professional radio jobs in the late ’80s at WNAV in Annapolis.
Johnson remembers that Medhurst displayed “genuine interest in getting involved,” did volunteer work for the station, and showed initiative in ways not every young broadcaster did. Growing up in Anne Arundel County, Medhurst was familiar with the station’s priorities and offered to grab interviews at high school football practices or games.
“I’m very proud of him because I remember when his journey started and remember there was nothing glamorous about working in a backroom studio at a small station,” Johnson says. “There’s a great sense of pride. I can appreciate the journey he’s been on because there are plenty of highs and plenty of lows. I know he’s experienced both, but the lows didn’t get to him, and the highs kept him going.”
Medhurst doesn’t reflect much on the low points. While he’s waited decades to get a shot at calling a professional baseball game, he doesn’t allow himself to get frustrated. In one way or another, Medhurst has gotten to do what he loves.
“In terms of play-by-play, you’re at the mercy of whether the right person likes you and hears you, that’s just luck. That comes down to random luck,” he says. “I’ve never had an agent to promote me out there to people, and plus, I work where I live. I work where I grew up. Not many people can say that.”
There are thousands, if not millions, of broadcasters who would want to be in his shoes, Medhurst believes, and he admits that he is in part driven by a fear of, “OK, if this doesn’t work, what am I going to do?”
“So you’re going to continue to do what you do best no matter what,” says Medhurst. “I think all of us in this industry can relate at some point. We’ve done gigs that we never got paid for in some cases, some gigs that don’t get paid very much, open microphone—an opportunity to prove yourself, to get better. I encourage a lot of younger broadcasters, when someone offers you an opportunity, don’t turn it down, even if it’s a sport you haven’t done.”
Medhurst also takes the view that those who are currently doing play-by-play with professional teams are the best in the business. “You appreciate their greatness,” he says. “If you look at it properly, you save yourself anguish and heartbreak.”
Less than 12 hours after returning from Cincinnati last Sunday, June 2, Medhurst arrived at the radio station near Nationals Park around 4:50 in the morning to do his 5:07 a.m. sports update. Kinard has noticed a subtle spring in Medhurst’s step.
“Pete is a really understated guy,” he says. “He’s not the type of guy to walk around and pump his chest, and say, ‘Look at me. I got this great opportunity.’ He just goes about his business, which is why I think he’s such a great professional, great broadcaster.”
“His passion is not Pete Medhurst,” Kinard continues. “His passion is sports. That’s what he is drawn to, that’s what he loves … I think Pete is, in some ways, still that kid that is just so happy to be able to watch a game and call a game and live that dream.”
Medhurst describes this past week as “surreal,” having seen up close the preparation that not only MLB players go through, but that of the radio broadcasters. The feedback he’s received from his colleagues and listeners has made him emotional at times, and he admits his eyes welled up when a Nationals staff member handed him the lineup card and game ball from the first game he called in Atlanta.
“Irregardless of how many baseball games I do for them going forward, this week has made me a better broadcaster,” says Medhurst.
He’s set to fill in on the same role when the team visits the Philadelphia Phillies next month.